Monday, 25 May 2015

Raekwon- F.I.L.A. (Fly International Luxurious Art)

Artist: Raekwon
Album: F.I.L.A. (Fly International Luxurious Art)
Record Label: ICEH20
Release Date: 26th April 2015

The latest solo full-length from one of Wu-Tang's finest only serves to show how far removed from the legendary crew's dynamic he has become

In a way, the difference in career dynamic and perspective that legendary Wu-Tang member Raekwon is experiencing now compared to when '36 Chambers' was released can be summarised by his recent and on-going feud with fellow Wu-Tang icon RZA. Raekwon called out the group's de facto decision maker and production mastermind about the "mediocre shit" he was supposedly producing for Wu-Tang's last effort (2014's 'A Better Tomorrow') and subsequently went "on strike" from the group, saying he was "unwilling" to appear on the album. 

Supposedly then, 'Fly International Luxurious Art' is where Raekwon wants and thinks he needs to be, both aesthetically and in terms of career tangent. An album that ultimately concerns itself with success and commercial gain, whilst there's no doubting Raekwon's talent, 'F.I.L.A.' mostly shines a negative light on just how far removed Raekwon has become from the original Wu-Tang sphere. 

To say the album is all-out bad would be a disservice; Raekwon's flow has suffered little, and there are a handful of tracks here, both braggadocious and in the old-school Wu-Tang spirit, that work. 'Live To Die' is a violence stricken tale about bringing down corrupt and "fake" gangstas that sees Rae at his most righteous (sample lyric: "What dinosaur game you playing? You playing death"). '4 in the Morning' is a crisp but dark effort to return to the mafioso-flavoured feel of his classic 'Only Built 4 Cuban Linx', and again sees him come through with creative and vitriol fueled bars, fellow Wu-Tang cohort Ghostface Killah sounding more energised than he often did on his project with BadBadNotGood earlier this year. 

Despite potentially being one of the more irksome songs on the record, 'I Got Money' is a sweet slice of retro, slightly stripped back funk-rap which features an ace gambit from A$AP Rocky, and 'Worst Enemy', even with its lazy hook from Liz Rodriguez is a surprisingly layered account of a past life of violence and a desperate want to escape it, which perhaps explains his vindication via his current riches. 

However, when there are pitfalls on 'F.I.L.A.' they unfortunately pull very few punches. Raekwon's delivery is almost always slick, but lyrically he often fails to offer anything particularly creative or ear-catching. A lot of the features don't bring much respite either. For example, on 'Soundbwoy Kill It' both Melanie Fiona and Assassin fall short of bringing anything that really fits. There's a typically dull and jarring Rick Ross verse on 'Revory (Wraith)' and no matter how hard they try, neither Ghostface or Raekwon deliver any bars that can save it. 

The elegant but crunchy glitzy boom-bap of 'Wall To Wall' is weakened by a poor French Montana feature. Estelle brings a surprisingly obnoxious hook to 'All About You', which production wise is a half-decent synth-funk pop-rap tune straight from the Drake cannon. Most offensive of all though is "Fila World". Not only is the production unbearably bad, but 2 Chainz' "I'm rubbish but I'm not taking myself seriously so it's fine" shtick is running so thin that it's not even laughable. 

There's no real telling what a Raekwon contribution to a Wu-Tang album would be at this point. It's probable that its subject matter wouldn't be as saccharine as this, but as a stand-alone project 'F.I.L.A.' should be judged on its own merits. As gifted and able as Raekwon can be, if it looks like there's no respite to his "strike" then one can only hope his writing becomes as powerful and poetic as it once was. 


Key Tracks: 'Live To Die', 'I Got Money (ft. A$AP Rocky)' 
For fans of: Ghostface Killah, Jay-Z

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